Best and Not Best Books of 2011

I keep track of the books I read all year and then divide them into two groups at the end.  Instead of worrying about favorite and least favorite books, I just choose which ones I would likely recommend to friends and which ones I probably wouldn’t.  My list is completely subjective and not in the least scientific.  It’s not even in any particular order!

Best Books

Half Broke Horses – Jeannette Walls
The Memory of Running – Ron McLarty
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs
Zeitoun – Dave Eggers
Bossypants – Tina Fey
Magyk – Angie Sage
Room – Emma Donoghue
Winter’s Bone – Daniel Woodrell
Decoded – Jay-Z
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami
Beat the Reaper – Josh Bazell
Just Kids – Patti Smith
The Financial Lives of the Poets – Jess Walker
The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman
The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman
The Passage – Justin Cronin
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie – Wendy McClure
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
The Curse of the Wendigo – Rick Yancey
Johnny Got His Gun – Dalton Trumbo
50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days — Dean Karnazes
Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
Lies My Teacher Told Me – James Loewen
Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor
Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town – Nick Reding
The Isle of Blood – Rick Yancey

Not Best Books

Chinatown Beat – Henry Chang
The Hangman’s Daughter – Oliver Potszch
Brainbox – Christian Cantrell
The Second Ship – Richard Phillips
Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
Pagan Christianity: Exposing the Roots of Our Church Practices – Frank Viola
Mr. Peanut – Adam Ross
Here on Earth – Alice Hoffman
Love Wins – Rob Bell
Island of Lost Girls – Jennifer McMahon
Summer at Tiffany – Marjorie Hart
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks
Flyte – Angie Sage
A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
A Little Death in Dixie – Lisa Turner
I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
22 Britannia Road – Amanda Hodgkinson
Death Wore White – Jim Kelly
The Gospel of Anarchy – Justin Taylor
Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn
Full Dark, No Stars – Stephen King
The Last Town on Earth – Thomas Mullen
Shine – Lauren Myracle
The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

I use Goodreads to keep track of what I read and what my friends read.  I definitely recommend it!

No, Not Everyone Wins

Came across a blog post last month called “We Aren’t All Winners.”  Read it here: The author, Bob “Wish” Wischnia, says:

Maybe—just maybe—I’m an old fogey who clings to the belief that you actually have to accomplish something in a race other than merely participating to deserve an award. To me, a medal is emblematic of some sort of racing success, rather than simply being able to remain upright for five kilometers.

I’m not an old fogey (I hope), and I also don’t believe in rewarding every single thing a person does.  I happen to have earned a medal at a 5k a couple of years ago.  I say “earned” because I finished first in my age group; I was a winner among the other women aged 35-39.  Still, I was surprised to get a medal for a 5k.  When I was about 11, my soccer team won the city championship and I received a trophy; I got nothing all the other seasons we didn’t win.  Now I see kids on the losing team walking away with trophies or other “awards” all the time. But I actually don’t want to talk about sports today.  The aforementioned blog post made me think about the overall sense of entitlement that I sense is now the norm rather than the exception, and it’s very discouraging.

Copyright 1939, Library of Congress

I’m not a parent, and some people will say that automatically disqualifies me from having an opinion about child rearing, but I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would teach my own child that they are always a winner and always deserve a reward.  If you’re always a winner, where is the incentive for improving?  If you are rewarded for things that you should be doing by virtue of just being part of a household, where is the incentive for going above and beyond?  Constant rewards/awards breed nothing more than arrogance and mediocrity.

Adults are just as bad.

Now, I don’t know a single person over 18 who would admit to always wanting to be a “winner,” but there are plenty who believe they should be rewarded for doing things that a generation or two ago would have been considered polite–and not even overly polite, just the minimum of politeness.  For example, going to a wedding now means getting a gift yourself.  Going to a party means walking away with a “favor” as though you never matured past age 10.  What misshapen idea of adulthood says that simply showing up at an event, any event, is worthy of a gift or or reward or prize?  It’s shameful.

I suppose it explains a lot about the kids…

An Open Letter to Tourists Visiting NYC

First, welcome to our city!  We not only love showing off our city to outsiders, the money you spend while visiting is very important to our economy.  Many New Yorkers enjoy employment because of you.  Thank you!

Sadly, we often hate you just as much as we need you.  You actually make it impossible for us to enjoy areas of our own city.  There are many of you and you all clump up in the same places.  (This is a curse and a blessing, since we at least we know what to avoid.  I would like to visit Rockefeller Center again someday…or Times Square…or a museum even.)

Also sadly, many of you will return to your homes thinking New Yorkers are mean or rude or ___, because you had a less-than-stellar experience with one or more of us.  On the contrary, we are quite nice and helpful.  We just don’t tolerate some things very well, particularly your complete oblivion to the way we live.

This man was probably an awesome tourist who didn't do anything I mention in my letter.

Here are some helpful hints that could make your visit to New York City more pleasant for all of us.

1)  On sidewalks:  Please NEVER STOP IN THE MIDDLE.  Would you stand in the middle of a highway?  If the answer is no, then you have no business stopping and standing in the middle of a NYC sidewalk.  Remember:  the vast majority of us do not drive.  The sidewalk is what we use to get to work and run our errands.  When you stop, particularly if you are part of a group, you essentially bring our traffic to a halt and disrupt our day.  Likewise, if you are part of a group, don’t walk more than two abreast and please keep moving at a moderate pace.  Again, clumping up and meandering creates sidewalk traffic jams and ill will. (sidewalk = highway)

2)  In bike lanes:  If you are not on a bicycle, don’t be in a bike lane.  Again, we use our bicycles as vehicles.  Bike lanes are for pleasure riding, but they are also important to commuters to get to and from work and home.  If you are on a bicycle, please pay attention to what you are doing and do not try to take pictures from your bike.  Also, DO NOT STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BIKE LANE.  (bike lane = highway)

3)  On the subway: You have about two seconds to enter or exit the train–please move quickly!   If you are standing, make sure your backpack or bags aren’t hitting anyone around you.  If you are sitting, try to take up as little space as possible and don’t spread out over two or more seats.  If you aren’t sure where you’re going or if the conductor makes an announcement and you don’t know what he’s talking about, please do ask.  People will help you.  We all know that the subway can be confusing, particularly after hours and on weekends.

4)  On the Brooklyn Bridge:  There are two lanes clearly marked, one for bicycles and one for pedestrians.  Please see number 2.  And please also see number 1.  The Brooklyn Bridge does not span the East River for you to marvel at; it spans the East River to allow New Yorkers to travel back and forth between Manhattan and Brooklyn.  (Please continue to ignore the Manhattan, Williamsburg, and other bridges.)

5)  On escalators: if you don’t plan to climb, keep to the right, single file.  Many of us do not want to waste time riding up or down.  We actually climb the escalator.  We are hindered when you take up the entire step.

6)  At Ground Zero:  Please stop taking your picture smiling in front of what’s left of the WTC.  It’s creepy and inappropriate.

7)  And finally, when you are busy looking up, remember that you are looking at our homes.  We live everywhere.  You are never not going to be in our neighborhood.  Please conduct yourself the way you would want us to conduct ourselves if we were standing in your front yard.

Thank you for reading my letter.  I hope you enjoy your next visit to New York City–or any other large city.  Happy travels!